This is a story about the fragmentation of a family. Emmeline Rose is aged 14. She lives with her eight-year-old sister Freya and her widowed mother Tess. Tess has mental problems so severe that she has to be sectioned. Emmeline is sent to a children’s home and Freya to foster parents.
During the progress of the book the reader learns certain fundamental truths about the surprising capabilities of the female members of this family. The book explores how they adapt to their new ways of life and how the emergent truths affect them and their relationships.
The merit of Grace’s book lies in its willingness to explore an issue rarely confronted in children’s literature – what happens to a vulnerable person when the immediate family can no longer take care of her? Just how painful are the adaptations that such a family fission entails is explored without evasion. The characterisation of the book is convincing. Its central character Emmeline is depicted, failings and all, with great candour. Although Emmeline’s mother Tess is seriously impaired, the author does not allow her to become just a token for illness. She remains a vibrant and convincing character in the narrative.
I have two very minor reservations about Grace’s book. The capabilities with which these females are endowed are so unusual that the author has difficulty persuading the reader that they are real. In the end Emmeline will combine part-time presence at the children’s home with part-time home residence. This resolution is not explained in sufficiently convincing detail. It can easily be mistaken for a convenient compromise.
These two reservations do not seriously detract from an outstanding novel.